Great Hoteliers Inspired Me To The Top
Ann Peggy Ashira is the General Manager, PrideInn Paradise Beach Resort, Convention Centre & Spa. She laments that people who thrive by dimming other people’s light are the biggest barrier to growth.
How did you start off your career, and who inspired you? The circumstances I grew up in never allowed me to dream but rather, live one day at a time. After KCSE, I stayed home for four years with little hope. I started off by decorating zebras and giraffes in a village curio shop and later moved to a petrol station within the same locality, as a pump attendant. One of my regular customers then, Mr. Munene (I hope this article helps me trace him, to just say thank you), a Food & Beverage lecturer at the Machakos Technical Training Institute, got impressed by my communication etiquette and my good customer service. He wondered why l was not in school, asked for my academic testimonials and got me enrolled in the college without asking for anything.
The College fee challenges that followed, is a story for another day but through God’s provision, I completed a 3-year food and beverage Management course. My industrial attachment was in Nyali Beach Hotel which was then run by Block Hotels. Here, I met great hoteliers who inspired me to rise. Top in that list is my Mentor to-date, Mr. Mohammed Hersi, who was then the Food & Beverage (F&B) Manager and has recently been listed among the top 25 Corporate Leaders in Kenya 2020. He is also the recent winner of the Most Influential Digital Leader during the African Digital Leadership Awards held in January 2021. I owe my fast growth path to Ms. Sarah Olukhale, the then restaurant Manager who interviewed and recommended me for waitress job.
One fine day in December 2004, I was allocated to serve the then Sarova Hotels Managing Director, Mr. Sandy Vohra (God bless his soul). He immediately proposed to Mr. Hersi to reconsider my waitress position to instead tap and nurture my leadership potential.
Mr. Hersi promoted me to the specialty Seafood Restaurant supervisor position after serving as a waitress for only three months. I worked under this great hotelier for six years moving from Waitress to Restaurant Supervisor to Restaurant Manager, then Outlets Manager, Assistant F&B Manager, and finally F&B Manager.
l undertook an online course in Food Service Management with Cornell University School of Hotel Administration in 2014. I was geared for growth and following in the footsteps of Mr. Hersi. I further travelled to New York for the Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) course. I pride in Food and Beverage as my Forte’, and I have nurtured national and international excellent and high ranking food and beverage professionals.
Together with Mr. Hersi, we worked hard towards transforming the customers’ food and beverage experience at the resort. One memorable event organized by Oriflame propelled me to the next growth level. We gave flawless service of a four-course meal for 2,400 guests. Mr. Hersi later gave me his blessing to leave Sarova Hotels on a double pay to become a fully accomplished F&B Manager at Leisure Lodge Golf Resort.
After two years, I became an Operations Manager at the Leopard Beach Resort and Spa and two years later, made the grand entry to my first general Manager position; at the Indian Ocean Beach Resort, thanks to Ms. Mary Mukindia who took me through a 3-hour interview and chose me among experienced gentlemen. I have held this position for the last 5 years.
My very deep and heartfelt appreciation goes to my current boss; the founder and Managing Director of the PrideInn Group of Hotels Mr. Hasnain Noorani. The most dynamic entrepreneur of our times, very futuristic, a risk taker, innovator, marketer and motivator. Owning a total of 8 hotels since 2001, such growth is not a walk in the park. It takes boldness, tenacity and unmatched fortitude. Mr. Noorani took me through the most rigorous interview ever; 6 times (4 verbal ones and 2 PowerPoint presentations). I got the job on the 6th interview, after three days stay as a mystery guest in the Resort and demonstrating to him what I would do to transform guest experience. Hats off to you Sir! You trusted a woman to head your flagship property which has a 240-room capacity, a 2,500 Beach Convention Centre, the only themed Aqua Park Resort in East and Central Africa, and the only 5-Star Resort in Mombasa County. What an honor!
From this vantage point, I am the only female General Manager running a 5-Star Resort in the country; by and large, within East Africa. I have earned recognition by CEO Global as Kenya’s most influential Woman in Tourism 2019 and in addition, a Continental winner of the same award in 2020.
Mr. Noorani has given me tremendous support and together we have made remarkable achievements. We have built a very young and vibrant management team and I can confidently say there is a solid succession plan and continuity as we look into opening many more hotels across key Counties and beyond the borders. Any young and ambitious woman out there must know there is a special man in this country, one who strongly values and believes in Women Leadership.
As a female leader, what has been the biggest barrier to growth in your career? I will quote a Comedian and Author, David Sedaris who said, “I haven’t got the slightest idea how to change people, but I keep a long list of prospective candidates just in case I should ever figure it out.” My biggest barrier to growth is people I have met in leadership, who feel the only way to shine is by dimming other people’s light. They use many words to let you know that you must slow-down and do things their way. I have met people who are afraid of looking bad; or have job insecurity and therefore, refuse to develop other leaders. I have been suffocated to mediocrity by people who cannot come to terms with the fact that I was a better leader or had better potential than them. I have faced tailor-made draconian rules that were only meant to deter growth and development. On the contrary, instead of discouragement, my very worst experiences as a leader only stirred me up to support fellow women to tap, nurture and enhance their potential. In addition, I developed a very strong intolerance for mediocrity and I therefore pick toxic people before they can inject rot to the organization. I have encountered people who are highly allergic to success but in such circumstances the Pareto rule has been a savior. I thus focus 80 per cent of my energy and time on the 20 per cent very positive and actively engaged people, who drive the overall success of the organization.
Do women in your profession have a hard time getting jobs or promotions during the Covid-19 era? Mmmmh, Not quite…. opportunities are available for any woman who has cut their own niche in the employment market. The only limitation to promotions and growth is mediocrity and complacency. Investors and employers are looking for good managers and they know the 21st Century female manager will do a much better job. In addition, with many businesses still on their recovery path from the pandemic effects, the female manager remains the best bet for she can swiftly formulate necessary strategies and possesses the womb to birth recovery, through her eye for detail and a hands-on approach
How can women achieve an equal future in a Covid-19 World? Women must overcome the myopic focus on things and positions previously believed to suit only men. We are created in the image of God and therefore the female expression of God’s image must function optimally and change the world. The need for an eye for detail in business, passion for excellence and zero tolerance to mediocrity can perfectly be met by women…Go for it woman!!!
Any career opportunities for women post Covid-19? Plenty of them! In some of my most challenging interviews I went through, I men on the queue; no woman should shy off from trying. I believe whatever is available for men, is for women too. We must rise and demystify the notion that a man stands a better chance to become a CEO than a woman. I am sought after every other month, to take up new challenges and this time even globally. There is no limitation to growth, COVID or no COVID, life goes on. Let the woman arise and take her place.
Career advice to young women entering your profession during the Covid-19 world? The experiences and challenges that allowed me to break through the leadership barriers should help others break through theirs as well. Never allow yourself to get done with learning, once you do that you are through with yourself ………seek a voice, a reason for tough business decisions, even when you feel you are 100 per cent sure. It minimizes risks and makes you see things from different perspectives. Get a mentor whose goal is to see you better than themselves in every way. Do not accept any hindrance to growth and do not sign into ego management; any decision that is meant to massage someone’s ego and put you down, for it will kill you faster than the business. Jump out as fast as you can, but do not burn bridges. Your ambition should be for the course, followed by self.
One recommendation for HR leaders to help promote women in the Covid-19 era at the workplace? The CEO who spotted me for my first General Manager position taught me the need to allow staff to make mistakes as they learn. HR leaders do cross references and record previous personal vendetta with insecure bosses as a reason to deny a woman an opportunity. Please go beyond this and give a deeper ear to the candidate. Recruit for attitude and performance track record, allow the probation period to tell you most of the other things you hear from others. The world of a woman in leadership is a tough one. Give her a chance and see your business propelled to heights of profitability through transformation. Women are home makers and company builders.